* Prices may differ from that shown
Following on from review: 'Transatlantic, pt.1'.
Eighteen months after the release of 'SMPT:e', Transatlantic released their second studio album: Bridge Across Forever. For a band that is mainly regarded as 'side project' for the four members (Neal Morse of Spock's Beard, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater (well, the founding member left Dream Theater two days prior to this review - shocking news), Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings and Pete Trewavas of Marillion), this was a pretty quick second release. Being the fantastic album that Bridge Across Forever is, it is phenomenal that this was written, recorded, produced and released all in the space of eighteen months, while the members were also focusing on their original bands.
Is Bridge Across Forever a step up from SMPT:e? Yes, I believe it is. Although Transatlantic didn't adopt a completely new style for Bridge Across Forever, there are very noticeable differences between the sounds. I feel that the material in Bridge Across Forever is far more melodic, with less awkward dissonant moments being heard. I'd say that the music tries to appeal more generally, with some very beautiful parts being sounded. But don't think by that I mean you're going to get an album that's an hour in length, featuring sixteen tracks with the longest just passing over the five minute mark. Oh, far from it. Transatlantic are Progressive Rock through and through, and their dramatic, epic suites are full of sublime music. However good or bad the music is though, Progressive Rock is just quite simply not everyone's cup of tea. But you never know unless you try. I introduce to you Transatlantic's second studio album, and my all-time favourite album: Bridge Across Forever.
1. Duel With the Devil (26.43)
2. Suite Charlotte Pike (14.30)
3. Bridge Across Forever (5.33)
4. Stranger in Your Soul (30.00)
Total length: 76.46
I think the main reason for Bridge Across Forever's different sound was due to the compositional efforts from all four band members. One of the main points of criticism for SMPT:e was how the majority was written by Neal Morse. I mean, it wasn't solely written by the bloke, but his style was most blatant. Balance was restored for Bridge Across Forever, and from the solo string opening of the first track, 'Duel With the Devil', we are immediately struck with a completely new sound altogether. Duel With the Devil, like 'All of the Above' from SMPT:e, is a suite, and is therefore separated into parts, as seen below...
I. Motherless Children
II. Walk Away
III. Silence of the Night
IV. You're Not Alone
V. Almost Home
'Motherless Children' is my favourite opening to a song ever - and when I say opening, I'm talking the first four and a half minutes. Only after then does the vocals enter, and the verses and choruses of this part are excellent, the chorus especially! So by the end of the first part of the suite, you've listened to seven minutes of music, which is the length of two normal radio-friendly tracks. It progresses straight onto the second part, 'Walk Away', which opens with an orchestration of light guitar chords with effect, a tinkly synth effect, a strange bass guitar slide and some harmonising vocals. The melodies are wonderfully bright and uplifting. This movement soon becomes quite celebratory when the drums kick in, before bridging into a virtuosic instrumental section.
'Silence of the Night' brings the music down to a low, suppressed, atmospheric sound. One of key features of these moments is Morse's restrained electric piano sound, which reminds me of The Doors. The music is purely instrumental for several minutes here, before the music builds up to a varied reprise of the chorus of 'Motherless Children'. 'You're Not Alone' is also quite low key, but features a lot of virtuosity, particularly from Portnoy on the drums. The soothing backing vocals are also a significant inclusion here. A further varied reprise of the chorus of 'Motherless Children' is heard, before the final movement 'Almost Home' really begins. What we hear is the lines 'Motherless children wandering nowhere, look up your almost home. Reaching for water, longing to go there, flooding into your soul' sung repeatedly by a young choir. The lyrics and themes behind the song are apparent here, as the music builds up fantastically for a final conclusion (poverty, politics...). Neal Morse is positively brilliant here, as we approach the final three epic minutes of the song. By the end of it, you are left feeling satisfied and elated. This is my favourite Transatlantic track, and it's possibly my favourite ever song. Superb.
One thing you must be asking is 'why do they have to shove five movements into one song, when it could quite easily be written as five different songs'. But there are themes, ideas and motifs that unify 'Duel With the Devil' so the movements can only be heard as one song. We hear reprises of lyrics, sections and musical ideas, and the lyrics are all linked, so 'Duel With the Devil' overall focuses on one issue.
'Suite Charlotte Pike', the second track on the album, is, as it states in the title, another suite, consisting of five parts once again...
I. If She Runs
III. Lost and Found Pt.1
IV. Temple of the Gods
V. Motherless Children/If She Runs (reprise)
The song is a bit of fun, and is a bit of a release after the undertones of 'Duel With the Devil'. It opens with the band having what sounds like an improvised jam, which actually features a part where Portnoy and the others shout 'wassup' into the microphone. This was 2001 remember...
After around two minutes, the song enters the first part, 'If She Runs', with the opening lyrics: 'If she runs, let her run run run, just hope that she comes back'. The movement has a cool vibe to it, and establishes this laid back feel that suite possesses. Stolt's guitar parts are very distinctive. The song then enters the very classic progressive 'Mr.Wonderful'. Morse provides a staccato piano chord pattern, and Trewavas offers a very unsettled bass line that compliments it very well. The chorus features thick layers of vocals over a very laid back 6/8 rhythm. 'Lost and Found Pt.1' features harmonising vocals that are very reminiscent of The Beatles, and the piano and guitar flatter the style. It's a very short section, and 'Temple of the Gods' is upon us before we know it. Again, it has a very cool feel to it, and features a great solo vocal part from drummer Mike Portnoy. He's not the best singer in the world, but his voice is very distinctive and it just sounds kick ass!
The suite cools down to a very laid back, slow rhythm for the final section, a reprise of the 'Duel With the Devil' section: 'Motherless Children'. But it's not over yet. The song builds up for a conclusion that fades out after two minutes. Transatlantic often end their songs on an ostinato, and Suite Charlotte Pike is no different. A reprise of 'If She Runs', the first part of the suite, concludes the song.
'Bridge Across Forever', the eponymous track, is by far the shortest, clocking in at 5.33. It is a pre-written song, composed by Neal Morse (and Prince, no idea who he is?!). It is a beautiful piece that is mainly piano orientated, accompanied by Morse's vocals. It is a ballad, but a unique one. The lyrics are ambiguous like many a Transatlantic lyric, but it's allegorical nature is endearing. The lyrics and music both sound magical. There is the inclusion of strings too, as well as a bass guitar part towards the end. It's all about the dynamics too though. It builds up at parts, and cools down at others, and it really renders this song an emotional one. It's a wonderful inclusion to a great album.
'Stranger in Your Soul' opens with a transposed version of the string part that opened 'Duel With the Devil'. However, as it ends, you can hear a distant rumble fading in, provided by Portnoy focusing on his tom drums, and Trewavas low, treble-laden bass line. Morse soon enters with an appropriate organ pattern, which Stolt soon accompanies with sole guitar chords. The song kicks in after an effective introduction. Suite number three...
I. Sleeping Wide Awake
II. Hanging in the Balance
III. Lost and Found Pt.2
IV. Awakening the Stranger
VI. Stranger in Your Soul
'Sleeping Wide Awake', as you can imagine, is slow and evocative, like a dream. The vocal harmonies are subtle but brilliant. It follows a verse-chorus form, and the chorus, like many previous to this one, features lots of sustained 'aah' backing vocals. Now, 'Hanging in the Balance' is quite heavy, but cannot be regarded as metal. It's full of repetitive guitar riffs and call and response vocals. The chorus is musically great, and very effective. Once again, the lyrics make no sense on the surface, but may take a bit of studying. 'Lost and Found Pt.2' features a lengthy instrumental section that is very virtuosic, and is concluded by a vocal section.
'Awakening the Stranger' although beginning rather atmospherically (with a lot of interest on the piano), moves into quite a slow ballad style, that is often interrupted when it feels like it should be moving into a more upbeat section. It builds up into a instrumental section before 'Slide', which has a shuffle rhythm and restores this 'cool' feel that was heard in 'Suite Charlotte Pike'.
Finally, 'Stranger in Your Soul'. The final section. Booming drums and cymbals, epic vocals, sustained organ sounds and harmonising guitar - it feels like an end of a song. There are fine melodies present, and a lot of effects, which create such dramatic feelings. Vocal section after vocal section, and each one sounds more epic than the last. A long guitar solo brings the listener to the final section, which fades out with a beautiful piano part...
The album cover is similar to SMPT:e's. The same odd spacecraft is seen, this time in a blue sky over a desert of some sort. The image is not as picturesque as SMPT:e's, but I do not think that this is reflected in the music.
The production of this album is fantastic. Recorded in Neal Morse's studio and produced by Transatlantic, it's hard to know what to expect. I always view bands producing their own albums with slight caution, but Transatlantic dismiss this view. Their music features many layers, creating rich sounds, and they all come through beautifully to the listener's ears.
'Bridge Across Forever' is Transatlantic's second studio album. For many reasons, it is different to their previous effort, 'SMPT:e' - musically, lyrically, thematically...I preferred it, personally. It is my all-time favourite album, as I have mentioned. Progressive Rock is far from a commercial genre. What you have in prog is strange sounds, complex music, lengthy songs and freedom in writing. Transatlantic, in 'Bridge Across Forever', comply to these features, but create ear-pleasing music that, if you really were willing to give a good listen, you'd thoroughly enjoy. Forget the lengths of the tracks, forget that this is 'prog' for a moment, and just listen to this magnificent album.